Researchers Steal Data From Air-Gapped Computer Over Power Lines

Researchers Steal Data From Air-Gapped Computer Over Power Lines

No computer system in the world is completely secure, so businesses and governments often keep their most sensitive data in so-called “air-gapped” machines. These computers are not connected to the internet or to any other local devices, making it almost impossible to steal data. It’s almost impossible, but there have been several clever proof-of-concept hacks that can do just that. The most recent comes from researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University of the Negev and involves sending data over power lines.

Like most hacks for air-gapped systems, this technique assumes you’ve had physical access to the computer at some point. The difficult part is not accessing an air-gapped computer, but exfiltrating the data. Past hacks have included monitoring fan noise, heat generation, and more. This time, it’s the power used by the air-gapped computer that’s leaking data.

The attack begins when someone loads the “PowerHammer” malware on the air-gapped system. This program scans the drive for files you might want to transmit, and then it manipulates the CPU’s power usage, altering the amount of current the computer draws. This can be used to send a signal over the power lines consisting of high and low power usage — 1s and 0s in binary.

In order to receive this signal, the hacker needs to have access to a building’s outside electrical panel. From the panel, you can gather data from the computer at less than 10 bits per second. The researchers call this phase-level powerhammering. If the hacker is inside the building, a more powerful version of the attack called line-level powerhammering is possible. With fewer unrelated signals on the line, the malware can modulate CPU power usage faster and the hacker can still pick up the data. That gets you a rate of 10 to 1,000 bits per second.

Researchers Steal Data From Air-Gapped Computer Over Power Lines

As a proof of concept, the team transmitted data at a rate of 1,000 bits per second from an Intel Haswell CPU-based system and at 100 bits per second from an Intel Xeon E5-2620-powered server. That’s not terribly fast, but the researchers managed a zero percent error rate. Using phase-level powerhammering from outside the building, the background noise resulted in data transmission up to 3 bits per second and a 4.2 percent error rate. At that rate, you could steal a 100KB PDF in about three days.

There’s no indication anyone is using this technique in the wild to steal data from air-gapped computers. However, the proof-of-concept proves it’s possible, even if it’s also rather slow.

Continue reading

Researchers: One Person Drove Bitcoin Price from $150 to $1,000

Economists recently took a look the spike that first sent Bitcoin over $1,000, finding it was most likely the result of a single person using bots to make a quick buck.

Chromecast, Google Home May Be Overloading Your Wi-Fi

If you've had Wi-Fi problems since hooking up a Google smart speaker or Chromecast, it may not be your router or internet that's to blame.

Click-Fraud Chrome Extensions Removed from Store After 500,000 Downloads

Researchers from security firm ICEBRG report finding a cluster of scam extensions in the Google Web Store with a combined download figure of more than 500,000.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch Delayed by US Government Shutdown

After previously suggesting a government shutdown would not delay the Falcon Heavy project, SpaceX now says it won't be able to test the rocket during a government shutdown. Even if the current impasse in Washington is solved, we're not out of the budgetary woods just yet.